Canning and preserving: Not just fruits and vegetables
Late blight practically wiped out our entire tomato patch this year. Lucky for us. Lucky, that is, because cucumbers, cabbage, peppers, and beans made up for the loss. Of course, everyone knows tomatoes are THE quintessential summer garden veggie, and we terribly missed our heirlooms. But gardening is a study in failures as well as successes. This year, late blight of tomatoes; last year our cucumbers and zucchini were hit by bacterial wilt brought on by a cucumber beetle infestation. So, you take losses in stride and hope for better conditions next season.
Last year's cabbage patch produced enough heads to allow for a new endeavor: the making of homemade sauerkraut. Another success, and testament to the higher quality and taste of homegrown vegetables. I take no credit for what goes on in the kitchen here at our house, my wife Maureen is the chef and I know my place when it comes to cooking - out of the way. Although I make it a priority to steer clear of the kitchen while Maureen is at work, nothing can be done about the aroma.
This year's cabbage crop provided even more sauer for the kraut. Some heads were the size of basketballs and for us this was a huge success. Amazed at their magnus, especially since I had not done anything particularly different as far as preparation beforehand, I wondered what Maureen would do with the abundant harvest, of course I knew the answer: more sauerkraut! There is a distinguishing odor of fermentation that occurs when producing sauerkraut, it's necessary, but still a rather unpleasant odor for the uninitiated. (Who am I kidding? It's an unpleasant odor for the initiated as well!)
Some aromas are more pleasing to the palette (yes, I know palate refers to taste, but cooking odors can sometimes bring on mouth-watering images of food) than others. Vinegar is not one of my favorites, yet it's a necessary part of the recipe for Maureen's pickles and relish. Once, after hearing about the weed killing abilities of vinegar, I sprayed about a gallon of it on an area of bothersome crabgrass. I could barely manage to be in that section of my yard for a couple of weeks! The crabgrass died, but came back about a month later. I learned afterwards that I should've used industrial strength vinegar (whatever that is).
Vinegar may be needed in the kitchen, but I'm not. Sometimes while Maureen is busy cooking, I can be found upstairs writing. Depending on what's on or in the stove, the odors drifting up from the kitchen can stifle my creative genius. Luckily, there's a window in my office that houses a fan during those times when a little fresh air is warranted. Of course, there's other canning and cooking odors that bring a much more pleasing experience.
Maureen's homemade jams and jellies are used in gift bags for friends and family. And when there's peaches, pears, apples, or rhubarb being cooked, some of the most mouth watering and nose pleasing odors waft up from the kitchen. It is at these times when I'm most bothersome, sneaking a pinch and taste of this or that whenever she's not looking. She knew from the start that I would never be of much use in the kitchen. And that's worked out okay over the years (18 of them at last count); she's the canner and I'm the canned.
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